BY MICHAEL YOUNG
A Cut Above Your Typical Super-Hero
The Batman is not your typical superhero movie. Although visually and sonically beautiful, it is so watchable because it tells a compelling story. This Batman is very human and he learns much about how human he really is! One of the best movies of the year! It is a heady three hours and a terrific setup for a reboot series.
Robert Pattinson, best known for his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight films, plays a brooding character who definitely enjoys the night. It is believed that Reeves wrote the Batman role specifically for Pattinson.
Zoe Kravitz plays the love interest, as well as a full-on action partner, in The Batman. She is probably best remembered for her performance in Mad Max: Fury Road and her voice acting in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse as well as her earlier appearances in the Divergent films. Here she plays a cat burglar and there is every indication that we will be seeing more of her in the planned sequels to this movie.
You won’t recognize Colin Farrell in his fat suit and prosthetics as Penguin, but he continues to develop an acting ability that surprises me. We saw him earlier this year in The Banshees of Inisherin where he was nominated for a leading actor Oscar.
Batman (A little film history!) Batman has been around quite a while, first appearing in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. His character was conceived by one of the original DC comic book artists, Bob Kane and was then fleshed out in more detail by Bill Finger.
Batman also has a long film history. He first appeared on film in 1943 portrayed by Lewis Wilson and again three years later by Robert Lowery. Many of us old farts will remember the classic television series of the 1960s and Adam West re-enacted his TV role in the 1966 movie Batman: The Movie. Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton in two films in 1989 and 1992, and Joel Schumacher directed Val Kilmer in 1995 and George Clooney, two years later. (The Clooney film was a disaster and led to the cancellation of a planned series.).
Christopher Nolan helmed Christian Bale in three Batman films known as the Dark Knight Trilogy in 2005, 2008, and 2012. The second one, The Dark Knight, is considered one of the classic superhero films and is a must-watch for anyone interested in the character. Pattinson borrows much from Bale’s character, although he definitely adds his own interpretation.
Ben Affleck stars as Batman in several films involving multiple DC characters directed by Zack Snyder between 2016 and 2021. (Another one, with a different director and three different actors portraying Batman was scheduled for release earlier this year and yet another one is planned in December). These films are all part of the DC business empire trying to cash in the same way that the MC has. (It should be noted that all the Batman movies combined have grossed more than $5 Billion, ranking them 11th in film franchise success!)
The Batman remains focused on the character of Batman. It is the first of a planned series with at least one more film to be released in 2025. In this series, Batman is not really a superhero — at least not like we see them in other films. He can, in fact, be killed because, underneath his fancy costume with bullet-deflecting capabilities, he is simply a human being, deeply affected by the loss of his parents. As many critics have noted, in this Batman movie, the superhero action has been dialed way down to give the movie a much more human tone.
Pattinson’s Batman is a brooding one. The film isn’t exactly an origin story since it starts about a year or two after Batman starts patrolling the streets of Gotham. What I especially liked about this film is how Bruce Wayne is portrayed as such a human. Although some 20 years after he witnessed the death of his parents, he is still an insufferable brooder, rarely going out in public and with really nothing directing his life except his unwavering commitment to fight crime. He doesn’t even care very much that his family fortune is withering away. In short, he starts out as a rather pathetic figure, not as some superhero with an arsenal of unnatural powers.
There is a sequence at the 17-minute mark where Batman makes solid eye contact with a young kid who, like Bruce Wayne earlier, had witnessed the death of his father. That same eye contact, this time between the kid and Bruce Wayne, occurs again at the 1:02 mark. There is an identification between the two and it impacts Wayne in a big way. He is reliving the impact of losing his parents.
It is almost a maxim that superheroes don’t really change a whole lot. Sure, they get beat up and suffer some kind of near-death, but they always summon up their superpowers, make a comeback, and vanquish their enemy. But, through all of that, we don’t see them actually grow much. They are who they are and can’t really get any better.
But that maxim doesn’t apply to The Batman. This “superhero” learns things that can only change his understanding of himself, and of his mission in life, in truly big ways. And I think that is one of the superlative strengths of this film. It has a very complex storyline during which the character grows significantly. Sure, there are several complex action scenes. In two of them, at the beginning and end of the movie, Batman fights off multiple bad guys in very well-choreographed scenes.
But none of these action scenes are ever the heart and soul of this film. While it probably should be classified in the “Action” genre, it is much more than that. What distinguishes this film from so many similar stories is that this one has a complex, but intelligible storyline. And, importantly, the story doesn’t involve multiverses, time warp travel, or anything out of the ordinary. Rather it is, at heart, a simple crime story with all the twists and turns that you want in a mystery. There is an improbable “save the entire city of Gotham” climax towards the end, but our hero doesn’t end up preventing the catastrophe. Rather, he simply saves as many of its victims as he can, many of whom are orphans, just like he had become. It is a thriller, but more in the tradition of 1940s film noir than in earth-destroying action scenes. The movie successfully makes Batman a human puzzle-solver, with all the strengths and weaknesses that that might imply.
This is one of the best movies of the year and it succeeds because, for all its technical wizardry, the filmmaking team never loses sight of the fact that Batman is, ultimately, just Bruce Wayne. It tells a story and it tells it well! (4.5*) Where to Watch: Stream: Max. Rent: Prime/Apple/Google/Vudu/Youtube/Redbox (all $4).